THE BLOG
01/26/2016 07:20 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2017

Perhaps Something Not So Rotten in the State of Denmark

Sean Gallup via Getty Images

There will be no prizes for anyone when the refugee crisis is over. European countries big or small will need to do a lot of soul searching about how the political elites squandered their opportunity to lead, how they missed the moment to show that they care more about Europe than they care about themselves.

All those who believe in our way of life should put their political rivalries behind them, hold hands and find ways to work together to manage this situation, which will get worse before it gets better. Whether it gets better hinges on leadership in Europe, of which we see little or none at all.

Let's also not forget about those, who are now surprisingly silent, hiding behind the backs of others, who early on played a role, a narrow minded, short sighted and cynical role in pushing for the influx of migrants, who only saw this as an opportunity to acquire cheap labor. Or yet others, who saw this as an opportunity of disruption to the European project.

In many ways, Denmark has been singled out as the devil, when it comes to the treatment of refugees. The recent decisions of the Folketinget (Parliament) have not exactly been helpful. The ambiguous measure of confiscating the valuables of arriving refugees, is not smart. Knowing the bad memories it brings back from the past, this law -- not created for refugees -- should have been suspended from the start. Not doing so only poured gasoline on the fire, which is being stoked by those who see caution and moderation as a flaw of liberal democracies.

On a recent visit to Copenhagen, I experienced the very deep soul-searching and the struggles to figure out how to deal with the refugee/migrant situation. My Danish friends were down and rightly so, but it is unfair that others point to Denmark as the worst example of what is going on in Europe. No, Denmark is not Hungary, the leader of the populist pack in Europe. The public debate is serious and elevated, short and long term views being tilted against one another. It is a sign of society's health.

We should not forget the backdrop. Denmark was an early target of radical Islam, after the publishing of the "Muhammed Cartoons" in 2005 in the daily Jyllands Posten. Too little credit was given to the Danes, to the courageous newspaper editors, to the Danish government for standing up on behalf of all of us, who believe in the freedom of speech and the rule of law. It was an act of bravery: unravelling of democracy starts with self-censorship.

And Denmark has a long history of taking in refugees too. It does distinguish between political asylum seekers and economic refugees. Its efforts to integrate newcomers has not been perfect (it never is in any country), but has largely been a success. Some, like Naser Khader, a Palestinian/Syrian refugee, has risen to the top of politics and is now a conservative member of Parliament. Nima Astanehdost, an Iranian refugee, rose to become a key executive of an important corporation. Danish women of Muslim descent are increasingly ambitious, rising through the ranks and leaving behind the traditional roles proscribed for them by previous generations, and are embracing their "inner Danishness". But integration and adaptation takes time and there will be many impediments along the way.

With the rise of radical Islam, they have had to learn to live with something new for the country: antisemitism, which brought about a terrorist attack on a Copenhagen synagogue last year. Do not forget the exceptional deed of saving Danish Jewry in October 1943, when almost all their Jewish citizens were brought to safety across the Øresund, to neutral Sweden.

And yes, the populist right is on the rise in the country. That is not a Danish phenomenon. It's happening throughout the continent. Whether the Danish government ( a minority government, which is dependent on the parliamentary support of the populist Danish People's Party) is making too many concessions to populism, is of course part of the honest debate.

Denmark will survive this deluge of negative international press. Its image has been hurt, but not seriously damaged. Denmark has a huge credit of goodwill. It must be attentive to the world's reaction. However, in an effort to change the perception it should not, I repeat, it should not start writing explanatory "letters to the editor", like the worst human rights offenders do.

Denmark must look ahead. The incredible creativity of its people must be put to use, to clear the fog surrounding the blurred picture. They should just do what they do best, be Danes: the fundamentally tolerant, smart, creative and, when needed, tough nation that has been the example for so many in the past.

It must send the message, that the one thing it will not give up is its deep belief in the freedom and democracy we cherish.

The rest will take care of itself.